Uber is at the Front Door

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Uber is at the Front Door

 I learned one thing through multiple hard lessons during my years working on a PhD at MIT — whenever there’s a challenge/competition, the only way to win is to embrace it and stay ahead of it, instead of being an ostrich with its head buried in the sand.
Uber is coming, and it’s not bluffing – a Thursday night this winter before the snow hit, I was trying to introduce hotpot to my new friend Diego, who owns a BMW X5 and a condo in the Seaport District of Boston. 
The best hotpot place in town is obviously in Chinatown. Diego was super excited. Yet without any hesitation, he responded: “Cool! Let’s Uber there!” I didn’t get it. Who wouldn’t want to drive his or her BMW whenever possible? 
Diego said, “Parking in Chinatown is gonna be a nightmare (cumbersome and expensive).” Does he really know the truth? I don’t think so. I know there’s a nice garage right beside the restaurant that offers evening rates, and it’s way cheaper than the even-not-surge-priced Uber! 
Diego is not alone. He has no accurate, real-time and reliable data on either the availability or the rates of all the parking options in Boston’s Chinatown. Parking businesses will be the frog in warm water on the stove losing territory gradually, before we even notice, especially if we keep ignoring this trend without taking meaningful actions.
Public transportation is working hard to improve data transparency by providing real-time tracking of buses and subways. Car-sharing, bike-sharing and many other up and coming businesses armed with data and analytics are even common. 
The entire automobile industry, for example, is in a panic because of Tesla, Google and Apple. How would parking survive? The pie is naturally limited by people’s needs for a car. 
The top reason drivers don’t keep a car in U.S. cities these days is always “Parking Difficulty” – same result every time I use this silly survey as a poor conversation starter at a party. Time To Wake Up! 
It’s on us to give drivers the opportunity to keep their cars. How to do that? Make parking more attractive than anything else. Imagine a world where people always know current and future parking availability and affordability of these spaces.
To start with, we need to embrace and turn the data technologies that “Ubers” are using into our own weapon, instead of fighting against the historical trend. 
Imagine how the landscape of the taxi industry would be if local cab businesses had adopted data and mobile solutions when Uber just started to grow. Apparently, many more local businesses would have survived and thrived through a pathway that Uber wouldn’t have had access to. 
This actually happened in China. According to Forbes.com, the largest on-demand taxi platform beat Uber when the local taxi business owners opened up to them, and within two years gained 99.8% market share. It was a huge win-win. 
Uber, and others like it, are something because they leverage data technologies to change how people work in the industry. Don’t be an ostrich; be an eagle. 
This will also happen in parking: complete transparency when it comes to space availability, rate information and demand-based pricing. Whether we also will see surge pricing, introduced by Uber, will be interesting. 
Nothing happens overnight. To stay ahead in this movement and not get lost in the chaos, what can we really do? 
Step one, start unlocking years of existing data in your own parking facilities and equipment — parking access and revenue control (PARC) systems, license plate recognition (LPR) systems, inventory systems, parking guidance systems, credit card-enabled meters, paystations/booths, mobile payment systems — anything that keeps a record of the transactions or activities in your business. 
By using a so-called overlay data analytics Software as a Service (SaaS) solution (e.g., Smarking Inc.), operations purely based on intuition or experience are no more. And decisions over service, pricing, staffing will all be supported by accurate, real-time, and reliable data and analytics:
 
For owners, this enables you to aggregate all parking transactions and operations data into one place, slice-and-dice the cleaned-up information for historical stats, real-time monitoring, and predictive analytics. The available solutions on the market present real opportunities to conduct “yield management,” facilitate data-driven operations, and get to know your customers through their behaviors. 
For operators, make data analytics technology an advantage for now and a standard in the future. Stay ahead by taking advantage of the available technologies. You don’t have to do everything for the clients yourself – even Boeing doesn’t make all the airplane parts itself. Don’t waste time on software development. Adopt to adapt.
For vendors, make systems open and embrace the data access requests as owners choose systems based on their openness more and more up-to-date: Of every 10 clients that Smarking, for example, signs up, four seriously consult for recommendations and advice on future purchase of PARC systems regarding openness and “friction” to get data access. That’s about not only how technically challenging it is to access data through the equipment, that’s also how supportive the vendors are. Owners want their own data. 
 
The car is a great invention, and the U.S. is built on wheels. Even “driverless cars” need accurate data and navigation to parking. They can’t always be on the road blindly circling for parking spaces, wasting gasoline and polluting the air. 
Embrace the data technologies and make parking better for your customers.
Article contributed by:
Wen Sang
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